Wrong Name on Plaque of Negro League Great

By Troy Sparks BASN Staff Writer
Updated: April 19, 2011

John Preston

John Preston "Pete" Hill... What's in a name?

MILWAUKEE, WIS— – There’s a plaque honoring a great Negro League player who played for the 1923 Milwaukee Bears resting behind the left field fence near the corner of N. 5th and W. Burleigh Sts.

This man was known for his consistent hitting and great play in the outfield. He was a player/manager inn the latter stages of his career.

But there’s only one problem: The name on the plaque is wrong.

Everything!

Everything!

The error was discovered by a great nephew, who is trying to get the name corrected.

The player is identified on the plaque as Joseph Preston “Pete” Hill. It should be John Preston “Pete” Hill.

Ron Hill took steps to make sure that whoever was responsible for the misidentification on the plaque fix it immediately. Some of the blame should be on the Milwaukee Historical Society, which dedicated the plaque in 2008.

“I called the Historical Society, and the first thing they said was, ‘We don’t know how we can change it because we don’t have any money,’ ” Ron Hill told me by phone last week from Pittsburgh.

That response led to Hill contacting a reporter from the Journal-Sentinel, the Milwaukee Brewers office and a black community newspaper.

“At first, the people at the Historical Society were acting kind of stupid, saying, ‘We don’t know where we’re gonna get this money at, and blah, blah, blah,’ Hill said. So I said, ‘Alright, forget about it.’ “

A Brewers official got back to Hill and assured him that he should “give us a chance. We’ll correct that.”

How could the Milwaukee Historical Society mess this one up? Obviously, they haven’t double-checked the name before putting up the plaque, which is almost three years old.

“My only thing was, then why would you have a plot of a great baseball player that people see all the time,” said Hill.

If Hill came to look at the plaque, he would see no picture identifying the player.

Tyler Barnes, the Brewers’ Vice President of Communications, told me that the plaque will be revised. Hill wants the revised plaque presented on the same day that the Brewers will play their Negro League Tribute Game at home, Saturday, July 9, against the Cincinnati Reds.

Barnes said the plaque will have the correct name on it, but the presentation won’t happen on that day.

The plaque that’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. also had “Joseph” Preston “Pete” Hill inscribed on it. Once the Hall of Fame was informed of the error, they immediately fixed it.

There’s no indication of when or if the Brewers or the Historical Society will put the right name on the plaque right away. It would have never been an issue if not for the efforts of the Hill family.

Ron Hill, with help from relatives, did research on their family tree and found that they were related to John Preston “Pete” Hill. To know the man was to appreciate his contribution to Negro League baseball.

John Preston “Pete” Hill began his Negro League career in 1899 as a 17-year-old as a member of the Pittsburgh Keystones. He also played for the Philadelphia Giants, Lelend Giants, Chicago American Giants, Detroit Stars, Milwaukee Bears and Baltimore Black Sox. On three of those teams, Preston “Pete” Hill was their best player while playing the outfield.

Preston “Pete” Hill served as a player/manager for the Bears. The 1923 season was the only year that they played in Milwaukee, disbanding before season’s end. They had scheduling conflicts with the white Milwaukee Brewers’ minor league team. Low attendance and lack of local coverage did that team in.

John Preston Hill adopted the name “Pete” to avoid confusion with an infielder with the same name.

Preston “Pete” Hill died at age 69 in 1951. The Negro League Committee helped get Preston “Pete” Hill into the Hall in 2006.